I went for a walk one evening recently. Instantly, I was struck with memories triggered by certain fragrances, sounds and sights. The smell of fresh cut grass. The sound of birds singing. The way long shadows are cast across the manicured yards a couple of hours before dark. Try as I might, my eyes could not take it all in as fast as my brain urged them to move. Here I was, walking my dog with no particular agenda other than for him to take care of his business. I had no idea that my neighborhood would become a catalyst for time travel.
There is something about the quality of the light early on a summer evening. I feel like an interloper as I watch the romance between and day and night. Their dance is magical as they draw closer to each other before they actually fall into a lingering embrace. The anticipation is like the promise of a kiss that you wait for breathlessly. A gentle breeze stirs the leaves of the trees around me, making a soft rustling sound. Then I hear it; the chorus of the cicadas begins.
These may not seem like important occurrences, but together they transport me back to my childhood where my father waits for me. My dad is the reason I have the ability to turn my attention to nature even when my life is incredibly chaotic. Whenever we were out and about together, he often shared his observations of the beauty that is all around us. So much of it was lost on me when I was very young, but I suspect he knew that. I now recall that he spoke as if he knew I would draw upon it later in life and my soul would be nourished. Indeed it is.
As I get older, I connect more deeply with the things my father taught me. He was thoughtful and philosophical about life. Because he had a gift for expressing his feelings, his teachings were less like lessons and more like art. If you can imagine someone creating a beautiful painting simply by speaking words, you have an idea of what it was like to study under this man. I never even knew that he was "teaching me". This is just what it was like to span time with my dad. The beauty of his legacy is that many of conversations are engraved on my brain, readily accessible at any time. It is not because I have superior recall. It is all due to my father's gift for communication. He expressed himself so beautifully, especially when the subject was something he was passionate about.
Because of the connection with my father, I have come to the conclusion that we never really die. I’m not even speaking in the sense of life eternal. I'm a believer, so that’s a given. I am referring to our life here on earth. It has become clear to me that people live on as long as someone remembers them in great detail. My father imparted wisdom that I would not truly appreciate until I was much older. But his words and everything he taught me has accompanied me everywhere I have gone. They are as much a part of me now as my DNA. He lives because I live.
My dad taught me to respect and be in awe of nature. He marveled at all of creation. He loved to ponder the true and intentional miracle of all life on earth. I can recall a walk together when we talked about the song of the frogs where we lived in Southwest Arkansas. That sound reminded him of his own youth and brought him unspeakable joy. I could see it on his face as well as hear it in his voice. Before I ever experienced it for myself, he described perfectly how something as simple as a singular sound had the power to take a person back in time. For me, that sound has always been cicadas. The “wee ah, wee ah” that rises to crescendo then abruptly subsides. My heart takes flight when I hear it because I’m instantly transported (body, mind and soul) to another time. One moment I am struggling with the everyday challenges and responsibilities of an adult; the next I am lying in the thick, cool grass of our front yard in Horatio.
In the blink of an eye, I slam into my childhood body which exists in the spectrum of the 1970's. And just like that, everything ceases to matter except the moment. It's dusk, and I lie with my eyes closed, listening to the cicadas' unique brand of music. There is no stress or sense of urgency. I have no looming deadlines or pressure. There is only the feeling of utter abandon and the innocence of youth. I have all the time in the world and time has a different quality when we are young. The world is much smaller, safer and encapsulated in a protective bubble of sorts. This is the place where I have not felt the sting of heartbreak, loss, betrayal and rejection. In the safety of this place I do not know the extent of mankind's propensity for evil. I know only the love and security of a mother and father whose life is dedicated to protecting and caring for their children and each other. On this carpet of grass, I feel my heart beating in my chest, the caress of the occasional warm breeze and I hear the hypnotic rhythm of the cicadas' singing in the branches above me.
I'm grateful that I made mental recordings of these times and can play them back now. There is immense joy in living in the moment, being present, paying attention. Looking back, I was better at it when I was a kid than I am now. My life is what I refer to as barely controlled chaos. I am not sure how I do "all the things" and still manage to take on more and more every day. Wait, that’s not true. I do know. God makes it all work. I certainly can’t take credit because if I were in control, nothing would get done. I would be paralyzed like a frightened animal overwhelmed by "too much muchness". In the midst of all the chaos, I love that God gives me these interludes of perfect peace by way of memories of a simpler time and place. He stills my soul and helps me focus on that background noise that is otherwise so easy to miss.
In the sound of the wind stirring the leaves; in the songs of the birds; in the soothing cadence of the cicadas, God is there, speaking to me. He tells me to be still and when I am obedient, He gives me the gift of pinpoint recollection where my father has not passed on from this world, but is once more walking beside me. “Cheri, listen. Listen closely. Tune out everything else. You hear that?” I hold my breath so not even the sound of my respiration interferes. Yes, I can separate and single out every little thing that crowds the airspace. How did I not hear all this before? “Look baby girl. The light is golden now, not harsh and white; the shadows have grown longer and deeper. How soothing this light is. How different from the blinding light of high noon.” More than 40 years later, I see what he is describing. Standing in the gap between 1970 something and 2018, he shows me that the ethereal quality of light and shadow is almost palpable. I reach out my hand hoping to scoop it up so I can hoard it for the rest of my life.
Like my dad, my Heavenly Father speaks to me; but rather than audible words, He communicates through everything around me. The air is thick with His presence as He speaks into my soul rather than my ears. “Be still, Daughter. Listen. Hear that I am in all things.” I filter out the noise of the highway traffic, the suburb sounds and concentrate on separating out each sound made by what He breathed life into. “Slow down, Beloved. See that I have created all of this because I love you.” With the vision of an eagle I can zoom in on the smallest detail. I see the intricacies of everything. There is nothing that is not pulsating with His goodness and His glory.
I realize that I am undeserving of anything good in my life. But for the grace of Christ and His sacrifice, I am lost to darkness and despair. May the sound of all God spoke into creation remind me of my place of insignificance in the world, lest I become haughty and prideful. Let everything my eyes behold remind me that I am nothing but a vapor, here one moment and gone the next.
Even on my worst days, may I continue to be grateful for this beautiful crazy life of mine. Today I am thankful not just for the good but also for the challenges which have made me grow spiritually and become stronger; for the memories that come so easily, clearly and allow me to recapture time with those who have long passed on. I am humbled and in awe of the measures God goes to for someone like me; so unimportant in the scheme of things yet immensely important to Him.